By David Phillips
While it’s inconvenient, even downright uncomfortable, for fans in attendance, there’s nothing like a rain shower (mixed with thunder, lightning and a dash of hail!) to liven-up a road race.
A mid-race downpour is Mother Nature’s joker; reshuffling the proverbial deck, forcing drivers to instantaneously adapt to treacherous conditions, teams to swap calculated strategies for split second decisions based on instincts rather than spread sheets, and race officials to find that delicate balance between safety and the suddenly added entertainment factor. Inevitably there are winners and losers – often not the ones who appeared destined to win or lose before the advent of precipitation.
It goes without saying that Acura and Team Penske, DragonSpeed USA, Corvette Racing and AIM Vasser Sullivan and Lexus were winners at Road America. But the DPi win was particularly satisfying for Acura and Penske, given the announcement last month that their partnership would conclude at the end of the season. Apart from reinforcing Team Penske’s consummate professionalism, the victory (coupled with the front row "lock-out" in qualifying) can only strengthen Acura’s bargaining position when courting potential partners for 2021 and beyond. And speaking of bargaining positions, Team Penske drivers Helio Castroneves, Ricky Taylor, Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya all made strong statements about their future "employability."
As well, DragonSpeed USA nailed the change to wet tires even as the LMP2 class leading PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA slithered off course to turn what had appeared a rout (they trailed the leaders by 3/4 of a minute at one stage) into a victory for Ben Hanley and Henrik Hedman. Meanwhile, in contrast to their GTLM rivals, Antonio Garcia and Tommy Milner managed to stay on the (slippery) road to score a one-two finish and a third straight win for the Corvette C8.R even as AIM Vasser Sullivan’s Townsend Bell and Frankie Montecalvo secured Lexus’ fourth GTD win in as many tries in 2020.
OK, losers is a harsh term but certainly Mazda’s decision to not call Oliver Jarvis in for rain tires before the red flag stoppage cost and the ensuing yellow cost them a legitimate chance at a second straight Mazda DPi win at Road America. And while no one can say what might have happened had they kept their noses clean under admittedly challenging conditions, Porsche’s Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy, John Edwards (BMW Team RLL), Simon Trummer (PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports) and Mario Farnbacher (Meyer Shank Racing Acura) are surely ruing their "offs" that may well have cost them class wins.
More Winners? The spectators on hand who checked the weather forecast and brought their rain gear and thus watched those final hectic laps in relative comfort; likewise the fans who watched from the dry comfort of home on NBC and were treated to a race that saw not one, not two, not three but four class winners decided in the final minutes of a thoroughly unpredictable 2 hour and 40 minute race. And for that they can thank Mother Nature, not to mention the IMSA competitors in DPi, LMP2, GTLM and GTD.